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What Brexit means for EU students in the UK and UK students in the EU

Friday 24-06-2016 - 12:21

Improved student mobility is one of the many benefits of membership of the European Union. In 2014/15 there were almost 125,000 EU students undertaking higher education courses in the UK, and still more on further education programmes; in turn, several thousand UK students studying in the EU, whether on study exchanges or for whole qualifications.

EU law requires member states have certain obligation to students from other member states, and this means that EU students in the UK pay the same tuition fees as home students and have access to financial support on the same basis as home students. This means access to fee loans in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and no tuition charged in Scotland. In certain circumstances EU students can also access maintenance support.

What does the vote to leave the EU mean for students, their right to study in the UK and the funding they receive? Some of the long-term consequences are unclear, and NUS has written to the Prime Minister and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to seek clarification on the situation of non-UK EU students and to ensure they are protected in the coming weeks and months. Read the letter here.

In the meantime, and with the caveat that this information is accurate to the best of our knowledge, this is the situation for students.

The referendum itself is indicative rather than legally binding, and so at present the UK remains an EU member with no fixed point for its departure. In theory, the UK could unilaterally withdraw from the EU if the Westminster parliament repeals the European Communities Act 1972, but this is very unlikely given the complexities involved and the need for careful negotiation with the EU on the terms of any future relationship.

Otherwise, the formal process to leave the EU is triggered by a member state invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. In his resignation statement, the Prime Minister, David Cameron, has said it should be his successor who takes this action, which would mean this autumn at the earliest. Once Article 50 is activated, the UK enters negotiation with the EU on the terms of its withdrawal, and this process can take no less than two years unless all other EU states agree a shorter period, and indeed the process may be longer than two years. Therefore the UK will still remain a member of the EU until late 2018 at the earliest.

In the meantime, EU law, and the rights and responsibilities it confers, continues to apply. Therefore, EU students can continue to study in the UK as now, with the same rights to funding as currently exist. UK students are still able to study in EU member states under the same conditions as previously.

The Government has said that EU students currently studying in the UK, or who commence courses before the UK leaves the EU, will have ‘transitional protection’ – in other words, the support the student receives will not change even if the UK leaves the EU. The situation in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is unconfirmed but NUS expects these parts of the UK will announce similar provisions. In addition, some universities and colleges have committed to supporting students so they can complete their course if necessary.

After the UK officially leaves the EU the rules on study and funding for new students from EU countries will depend on the agreed rules on immigration and freedom of movement, as well as the funding rules in place in each constituent part of the UK. For example, Wales may have different funding arrangements for EU students to those in place in England. We cannot say at this stage what the rules will be, although in NUS’s view it is likely that in most cases they will be less generous than currently exist.

Following the UK’s departure from the EU the rules on study and funding will depend in part on the agreed rules on immigration and freedom of movement and on the funding rules in place in each constituent part of the UK. For example, Wales may have different funding arrangements for EU students to those in place in England. We cannot say at this stage what the rules will be, although in NUS’s view it is likely that, on the whole, they will be less generous than currently exist.

Similarly, the rules for UK students who wish to study in the EU post-2018 will depend on the outcome of negotiations and on the individual decisions other EU member states make about their own funding rules. 

In summary, there are no changes for the time being, but much about the future remains unclear. NUS will ensure we update this information when we receive a reply to our letter and as further details become known. Students may also wish to consult the UKCISA website, which contains comprehensive information on immigration and funding rules for international students. 
 

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